Is Africa Ready for China’s High Speed Trains?


Renowned for its high construction and manufacturing capacity, China’s high-speed rail brands have also gained popularity.

In the bid to foster economic prosperity, trade, and market integration amongst African markets, China has become sought after for its input in the railway and construction sector in the region. For instance, in August 2016, China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) received the approval of the Federal Government of Nigeria to construct a rail line in Kano at the sum of $1.85 billion.

In recent times, China is investing billions of dollars- over half a trillion dollars- on a huge modern rail network that will eventually traverse the length and breadth of Africa as part of Beijing’s long-term vision to drive growth and development in the continent’s latent economies. It is expected that by 2020 Africa will begin to see the full potential of these rail networks which are expected to open up markets and provide more efficient access for African goods

Undoubtedly, high-speed railways can speed up connectivity and promote economic integration especially in Africa. The projects would also align with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 action plan. But the question is whether China’s high-speed railway projects suit Africa. Here are 5 reasons why China must address Africa’s rail project risks:

1. It requires massive investment and a high occupancy rate.
2. Large wild animals in Africa may disturb rail construction. If the track is lifted above the ground, the construction cost will be pushed up as the supply of cement in Africa may not meet the demand and high quality cement would be required.
3. High-speed trains are driven by electrical power and there must be a sufficient power supply. Unfortunately, most African countries are yet to achieve stable power supply.
4. Rise in construction costs and economic risks
5. Most African countries lack expertise in rail maintenance and operation, which may lead the railways to incur losses.

Given these risks, the launch of high-speed rail projects in Africa is currently not feasible. Nevertheless, transport infrastructure projects are still a necessity in Sino-African cooperation. Considering recent global developments, Chinese firms should focus on risk assessment beyond land, environment, geology, resources and technical specifications but also on factors such as geopolitics, religious beliefs, customs, public opinion and cultural conflicts.

An important case-study is the China-constructed Tanzania-Zambia Railway which has suffered losses due to insufficient maintenance, operational problems and frequent occurrence of accidents. Then lessons learned could engender China to help Africa build more railways such as the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, which links the capital cities of Ethiopia and Djibouti and fosters economic integration.


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